Holly Dicker tags along for a seven-set weekend with one of the Netherlands' finest DJs.
Rodrigues is an institution in the Netherlands, his favourite place to play. You could say he is a national treasure, with a devoted fanbase that includes many fellow artists and industry folk. He never intended to be a DJ––"it chose me," he says. He was content "just being with the music." Now he's one of the most in-demand selectors in the country.
"In Holland I'm known as the guy who does his own thing," he says. And he's mostly commended for it. Of course there are the critics, of whom Rodrigues himself is the worst. "A lot of people think I'm doing it for the money," he says. "But I just want to play." It's an insatiable appetite for music that has Rodrigues happily hitting the road for domestic gigs most weekends, something he finds far less tiring than constantly flying for international gigs like most of his peers.
On a blazing weekend in August, during the the apex of the Dutch festival season, Rodrigues invited me to come along for the ride. Three cities, seven sets and many interview hours later I realised that the buoyant, crowd-pleasing performer in the booth is the same enthusiastic and friendly personality offstage. He is also, without a doubt, one of the finest DJs in the Netherlands.
It's the afternoon of Friday, August 10th. Rodrigues and I meet for a photoshoot at the iconic Cruise Terminal Rotterdam on Wilhelmina Quay in the south of the city—Rodrigues' suggestion. This spot has one of the best waterside panoramas in Rotterdam, and besides functioning as an active terminal for cruise ships, it's also a landmark nightclub.
This is Rodrigues' first official photoshoot. He has been using the same outdated press shots for years, much to the annoyance of promoters. He doesn't really have a bio either. "Everything is unofficial, that is my life story in a nutshell," he says. This began with his entry into DJing at 15, when he was asked to warm up for Michel de Hey at Nighttown on the eve of Dance Parade, Rotterdam's answer to Love Parade. "After that, I thought, I'm done. I don't need to do anything more in life." But in fact he was only just getting started.
"Unofficial" describes Rodrigues' general DJ philosophy, too. He doesn't want to become an "exclusive DJ, an official thing, a brand." He'd rather be "the guy that mingles in everywhere" and plays "everywhere a little bit."
Rodrigues has always been approachable. In the '90s, he sold records at Basic Beat, Ronald Molendijk's store on the Binnenweg, back when the street was a mecca for DJs and vinyl collectors. He took over from Tijs Verwest, AKA Tiësto, when his career blew up. "I was the new young kid and I was still discovering stuff," he says. "So I was really open and sharing all the records."
He has built his life around sharing music. This obsession began with his father and the Rotterdam radio show Planet E, hosted by Michel de Hey. "This show took over my whole everything," he says—he even memorialised it on a 2012 record for for de Hey's label, EC Records. "Usually people have footballers or sports heroes in their rooms, I had an autograph of Michel de Hey." Now they are colleagues and regular collaborators.
Rodrigues was a rebellious teenager. He describes being ferried between family members, having a difficult relationship with his father and skipping school for months on end. He found solace in music. "Planet E Radio fuelled my whole youth," he says. "I didn't care about anything else." At 16 he quit school to work at Basic Beat. By 18 he was a resident DJ at Nighttown, Rotterdam's most important underground house and techno club in the '90s, and Now&Wow, a weekly dance music "spectacle" in a 5,000-capacity warehouse in the west.
Now&Wow put Rotterdam, and Rodrigues, on the map. "I played the second night it opened," he says. "Promoters were calling into the record store the week after wanting to book me for their parties. And they never stopped calling."
We've been talking for almost three hours and I've barely gotten through half my questions. Rodrigues has plenty to say on the evolution of Rotterdam's nightlife, from the inspiring community he discovered in the '90s, to the city's fiery millennium phase and sharp decline from the mid-'00s. It is only in the last decade, he says, that the scene has started, slowly, to rebuild itself.
Rodrigues refers to the mid-'00s transitional period as "a really weird time," when house and techno gave way to the emerging urban or "dirty house" sound popularised by the likes of DJ Chuckie. The sets grew shorter, the crowds got younger, and a culture of playing the hits replaced the cult of the deep digger DJ on which Rodrigues had modelled himself. It was at this moment he decided that, instead of giving up, he would simply play more gigs. "At least I get to hear my favourite music if I play it myself."